Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - Monsanto has reached a settlement with seven states involved in multidistrict litigation over complications stemming from a 2013 incidence of the company‘s genetically modified wheat plants turning up in east Oregon fields. Plaintiffs claim that depressions in the U.S. wheat market can be attributed to the discovery of grains that had undergone genetic experimentation by Monsanto and spread to nearby fields, compromising farmers‘ global crop values.
The settlements were announced on March 18, covering wheat farmers in Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. The deal was made for a total of $350,000, with $50,000 designated to be donated to agricultural schools in each of the affected states. There are additional costs pursuant to the settlement including plaintiff reimbursement and attorney fees, though these figures are expected to remain private.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuits claim that the Monsanto, the largest seed company in the world, planted and tested the controversial genetically modified wheat products beginning in the late 90s and continued to do so through 2005. The company attempted to receive regulatory approval for the strain during this time, but decided to abandon the product after those efforts failed. In May 2013 that same experimental strain of wheat was found in eastern Oregon, setting off a wave of skepticism from countries that have regulations against importing genetically modified wheat products. The U.S. wheat market allegedly took a hit from the discovery of Monsanto‘s experimental plant as foreign markets became wary of the possible proliferation of genetically modified wheat nationwide after its unexpected discovery in Oregon. Japan and South Korea even suspended U.S. wheat orders following the discovery.
Unlike many other foods, the sale and consumption of genetically modified wheat has never been approved for humans in the U.S. or elsewhere. The discovery of the Monsanto wheat in America not only hurt the grain product being sold at the time, but brought about global regulations requiring closer screening of American wheat exports. The lawsuits are similar to those filed against the company Syngenta, whose genetically modified Viptera corn product mixed in with other corn products and caused major postponements in deliveries to China that harmed the U.S. grain market.
Plaintiffs claim Monsanto first created the wheat product "Round Up Ready" to be resistant to herbicides. The reemergence of the product, which was a modification of soft white wheat, has puzzled government officials who claim they are not sure how the wheat turned up in the contaminated field and consider the incident an isolated occurrence. Even with the sanctions against the U.S. market, there have been no reports to date of the Monsanto wheat entering or being discovered within the wheat market.
Though the genetically modified wheat was originally discovered in eastern Oregon and especially affected the Northwest regional markets, the current settlement agreement only covers Midwestern and Southern states. A previous settlement with plaintiffs from the Northwest regions was made in November for a total of $2.4 million. The genetically modified strain that was discovered did affect states throughout the country in terms of global confidence in their product, as postponements and cancellations took place for farmers thousands of miles from where the original field the Monsanto seeds were found.